Cities under siege as Taliban wage spring insurgency


Cities and towns across Afghanistan came under sustained attack and parts of the capital were under siege yesterday in a co-ordinated offensive by insurgents. Multiple explosions and heavy machine-gun fire echoed through Kabul as bombers and gunmen targeted areas where the parliament, foreign embassies and Nato's headquarters are based.

The raids were the latest and most spectacular outbreak of violence which has continued for weeks, leaving dozens dead and questions about the West's exit strategy from the war.

While firefights continued in Kabul following the first blasts in the early afternoon, there were suicide strikes at a US military base in Jalalabad, as well as Gardez in the east, and at Logar province near the capital, with militants attempting to storm the offices of the army, police and the intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security.

The British embassy in the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul was one of those targeted, with two rockets hitting a guard tower, usually manned by Gurkha guards, and a rocket-propelled grenade smacking into a house used by diplomats.

By late afternoon, the Afghan government claimed that 14 insurgents had been killed, while 14 police officers and nine civilians were injured.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks, with the spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid saying in a text message to the media that it was the start of the spring offensive: "We sent suicide bombers to Kabul and they are now taking over parliament, the US embassy and all diplomatic buildings."

But last night, Afghan and Western officials were saying there were indications it was the handiwork of the Haqqani network, which carried out the last major assault on diplomatic missions in Kabul in September.